Toledo Rockets (8-4 SU, 4-7-1 ATS) vs. Arkansas State Red Wolves (7-5 SU, 7-5 ATS)
Date and Time: Sunday, January 4, 2015, 9:00 pm EST
Where: Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Ala.
TV: ESPN, DirecTV 206
by Badger, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: TOL. -3.5/ARK.ST. +3.5
Over/Under Total: 67
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The annual Arkansas State Bowl, er, I mean GoDaddy Bowl played in Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama, will feature two of the countrys top running offenses when the Toledo Rockets and the Red Wolves tangle on January 4th on ESPN.
I joke about the name of the GoDaddy Bowl because its only been in existence for five years now and Arkansas State will be making their fourth straight appearance in the game. The Red Wolves will be trying to win their third straight GoDaddy trophy, beating Kent State in 2013 (17-13) and Ball State (23-20) in last years contest. But Toledo finished the season as one of the hottest teams in all of college football that didnt win a conference title or get a chance to play in a conference championship game, winning four of their last five with their only defeat coming in a narrow, late-game loss to eventual Mid-American Conference champs Northern Illinois.
In fact, the Rockets beat every single team from the MAC that will be playing in bowl games this winter except the Huskies, dropping Western Michigan, Central Michigan, and Bowling Green on their way to a 7-1 record in the MAC. With all three of those teams struggling in their respective bowl games in the postseason, it will be interesting to see if the Rockets can help to salvage a little of MAC pride in the seasons last bowl game before the college football championship.
Arkansas State did put up 68 points in their regular season finale against a New Mexico State team that finished 2-10, but the Red Wolves did struggle down the stretch losing two of their last three en route to their third-place finish in the Sun Belt Conference. If you take it back further, the Red Wolves lost four of the last six games on their schedule, so momentum is something first-year head coach Blake Anderson will have to try and get back for Arkansas State before these teams kickoff on the 4th.
On a positive note though, at least the Red Wolves wont be searching for a new head coach this offseason. In all three of Arkansas States previous GoDaddy appearances they were replacing a coach, as Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss), Gus Malzahn (Auburn) and Bryan Harsin (Boise St.) all left after one season to take a higher profile job somewhere else. Anderson is staying put, for now, so the continuity that comes with the coaching staff staying around for more than one season.
The oddsmakers in Las Vegas opened the bowl game with Toledo as small 2-point favorites, but it didnt take long for bettors to jump on the side of the hot Rockets team and drive the point spread up to where it now sits at Toledo minus -3.5 points. There are even some offshore sportsbooks that have moved this game up to Rockets minus -4.
The over/under total opened at 66.5 and has held pretty firm through the first few weeks, although most books have raised it up the hook to 67 with a spackling of 68s at a few sportsbooks.
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As mentioned, these teams run the ball predominately when they are offense, and their styles and schemes are similar in approach as they both use the read-option to try and create seams and gaps along the edge. However, they do differ slightly in which player gets most of the carries, as Toledo likes to use the running backs while Arkansas State uses dual-threat QB Fredi Knighten as much as possible.
Toledo will use a heavy dose of running back Kareem Hunt (1,360 yards, 11) on the option and will spell him at times with Terry Swanson (732, 6) who also ran well in the middle of the season when Hunt missed time with ankle injuries. The wild card for the Rockets is quarterback Logan Woodside, who had ankle injuries issues of his own down the stretch but rebounded nicely in the Rockets finale throwing for five scores in a lopsided victory over Eastern Michigan. Woodside might not have to throw it much, since the Red Wolves defense allowed 192 yards rushing for the season (93rd in FBS) and could have issues stopping Hunt and Swanson if the Rockets choose to try and run it down their throats.
Knighten had a solid season in his own right, throwing for nearly 3,000 yards (2,874) and 19 touchdowns, while adding 775 yards rushing and 11 more scores on the ground. Knighten also played exceptional in the regular season finale, accounting for 449 total yards and four scores in the 68-point outburst over the Aggies. Running back Michael Gordon also topped the 1,000 yard mark this season, so by all means Knighten isnt the only runner the Red Wolves will try and use. The Toledo defense is pretty strong versus the run though (121 ypg 18th), so look for the Red Wolves and Knighten to throw it more on early downs against a Toledo defense that gives up huge yardage in the passing game (282 ypg 122nd).
Toledo has won both of the previous meetings between these two schools back in the early 1990s, winning by scores of 49-0 and 43-28 back before the Red Wolves were an FBS program.
As most bettors will note, these two have had different outcomes when it comes wagering results in bowl games and in non-conference games in the past. Toledo is just 1-3-1 ATS in their last five bowl games, while Arkansas State is a solid 3-1-1 ATS against the MAC over the years. The Red Wolves are also 4-1 ATS in non-conference games of late, while Toledo (playing up in competition usually) has only gone 1-4 ATS against non-MAC teams.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Theres something to be said for the teams from the Sun Belt playing in their normal bowl game position. Lafayette has won three straight in the New Orleans Bowl, and the Red Wolves seem to make a habit of beating MAC teams in the GoDaddy. That said, I do lean toward Toledo in this spot simply because I think the Rockets have the better team. But the better team doesnt always win in college football as most of you are fully aware by now. In a small wager, Ill play a hunch and take Arkansas State plus the +3.5 points here, even though my head tells me that Toledo will win.